Cassini captures spectacle in Saturn's shadow
14:04 19 December 2012
Flora Graham, deputy editor, newscientist.com
Like a Christmas bauble hanging in the night, this view of a backlit Saturn shines in the darkness. The image was taken during a rare chance for NASA's Cassini spacecraft to observe the planet's rings while in Saturn's shadow. Conveniently, Saturn blocks the sun and the rings are illuminated from behind.
As well as providing a unique view of an already enchanting world, the image reveals details in the rings that aren't easily seen in direct sunlight. The picture is a composite of infrared, red and violet-spectrum photos taken by Cassini in October and released this week.
The last opportunity for Cassini to spot Saturn from this angle was in 2006, when NASA created a mosaic of images that revealed previously unknown faint rings around the planet.
The two tiny dots in the lower left-hand quarter of the photo are two of Saturn's moons, Enceladus and Tethys. Enceladus is closer to the rings; Tethys is below and to the left. Previous Cassini fly-bys discovered that Enceladus is a geologist's paradise of snaking ridges, chasms and scratches, while Tethys hosts a mysterious spear-shaped feature.
For more on Saturn and Cassini, visit our Saturn and its moons topic guide.